Friday 10 June 2011

India's Picasso: M.F. Husain (1915-2011)

M.F. Husayn (1916-2011)
Religion Dispatches carried an obituary of Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain, written by Bruce Lawrence, Professor of Religion at Duke University and an authority on South Asian Muslim culture. As an Indian artist of Muslim background, throughout his career Husain Sahib was concerned with the sheer humanity of Indian life. Yet, as an octogenarian he managed to cause controversy with his depictions of Hindu Deities, forcing him into foreign exile, ironically in the conservative Gulf emirates of Dubai and then Qatar. Thus, his twilight years parallel the tribulations of many other Muslim intellectuals.

What this 'Indian Picasso' has tried to do is reach out across the divides of religious and cultural traditions, writes Lawrence: "For students of Abrahamic religion, there are few modern paintings as evocative as M.F. Husain’s enormous acrylic triptych which appeared at the entrance to the gallery at the MIA [I.M. Pei Museum of Islamic Art in Doha]".
Cross-Cultural Dialogue (M.F. Husain, 2008)
 Labeled “Cross-Cultural Dialogue”, it is a painting I describe at length in my essay that appears in the only academic study of Husain, a book edited by my Duke colleague and dedicated to the artist: Sumathi Ramaswamy, Barefoot across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India (Routledge 2010). The holy book looms large, in three different forms or versions, as do three figures of religious agency, and then there is the faceless woman. In a sidebar, M.F. Husain refers to her as “the Queen of Qatar, forging ahead riding a red horse” but elsewhere a faceless woman can be, and often is, Mother Theresa. The intention is, in the artist’s words, “to see in that empty face all the faces of those whom she has assisted.” And so the empty space is not the lack of space but the encompassing of a greater space, and the same could be said for the empty face in “Cross-Cultural Dialogue”, alluding to future alliances, options and convergences to be initiated by Sheikha Mozah but not yet imagined or planned.  
 The complete article can be read here. For an interview with M.F. Husain conducted by Bruce Lawrence, click here.

Beyond the Canvas: An Unfinished Portrait of M F Husain

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